A retired Navy SEAL commander’s 12 rules for being an effective leader

Jocko willink
Retired Navy SEAL commander Jocko Willink, left, crouches on a roof during the 2006 Battle of Ramadi in Iraq. Courtesy of Todd Pitman

For their service in the 2006 Battle of Ramadi, Navy SEAL Team Three Task Unit Bruiser and its commander Jocko Willink became the most highly decorated special-operations unit of the Iraq War.

Willink is now retired from the SEALs, and he and his former platoon commander Leif Babin released a bestselling book last year titled “Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win.” In it, they explain the lessons learned in combat that they have taught to corporate clients for the past five years in their leadership-consultancy firm, Echelon Front.

Willink writes that he realised during his 20 years as a SEAL that, “Just as discipline and freedom are opposing forces that must be balanced, leadership requires finding the equilibrium in the dichotomy of many seemingly contradictory qualities between one extreme and another.”

By being aware of these seeming contradictions, a leader can “more easily balance the opposing forces and lead with maximum effectiveness.”

Here are the 12 main “dichotomies of leadership” Willink identifies as rules every effective leader must follow.


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